HC Deb 28 November 1991 vol 199 cc1056-7
6. Mr. Alton

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the current level of consumer debt in Britain; and what was the comparable figure in 1981.

Mr. Maples

The level of outstanding consumer debt at 30 September this year was £52.6 billion. Because of changes in coverage, comparable figures are not available for 1981.

Mr. Alton

Those figures, which show £52 billion of personal debt excluding mortgages, surely represent personal misery and are a major cause of family and social breakdown. Does the Minister think that it is now time to implement the proposals in the report "Escaping the Debt Trap" to introduce social loans, to take more stringent action against loan sharks who exploit poor people by their extortionate interest rates and to encourage a more responsible lending policy by banks?

Mr. Maples

On the question of extortion and credit, the Director General of Fair Trading published a report in September which the Department of Trade and Industry is considering. As for the proposals contained in "Escaping the Debt Trap"—the hon. Gentleman kindly sent me a copy—it will not surprise him if I do not agree with all of them. It is not the Government's business to start telling banks and consumers what arrangements they should make between themselves although, clearly, some people are in difficulties with consumer credit. I do not think that the fact that consumer credit is at a high level is evidence that people are miserable—they have done things with the money that they have. Most have either made sensible investments or have bought what they wanted and could afford.

Mr. Loyden

Does the Minister recognise that the question of loan sharks has been on the agenda for the past 12 years, but that nothing positive has occurred other than the report to which he referred? Is not it time that the Government took on board that question and began to tackle the problem of loan sharks positively? Such action is certainly lacking at the moment.

Mr. Maples

As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), the Government have obtained a report from the Director General of Fair Trading, which was only published on 24 September. It is reasonable to give the appropriate Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry a little more time to respond to it.